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Vendor Spotlight & GIVEAWAY: Silhouette SD

Reported by Jessica Ripley

Of all the craft products that are on the market today, it seems to me the most difficult one to reach a decision on when it comes to what to purchase is a die cutting machine. Not only does there seem to be a version of every shape and size from capability to budget, choosing a die cutting machine is not really a “this one is the best” type of purchase. When reviewing all that is out there, we also have to take into account our personal feelings and needs, because in truth all those machines are “good,” it is just a matter of which one is “best” for us.

We are faced with questions such as:

  • Do we want excellent portability, or will the machine stay in one place on our craft rooms never to move?
  • Do we want the capability to cut our own designs or are we okay with strictly pre-made ones?
  • How computer-savvy do we need to be to use the thing?
  • At what point does the price (and future costs associated with) no longer equal a good investment?

I have asked myself all of these questions before, and that led me to originally choose a different die cutting machine for my needs. I won’t be comparing the two in this article, as again which machine we prefer can be just as much of a personal choice as anything, however I do feel like I should mention testing out and playing with the Silhouette SD has probably changed my mind on which machine I would recommend to a friend if they were faced with those same questions above. Here’s the lowdown that I’d share with them, which I hope you find helpful in your pursuit of the perfect machine for you too.

What you get

Out of the box the Silhouette SD comes complete with just about everything to get you up and running.

  • The Silhouette SD machine, which is lightweight and not overly bulky (a must for precious craft space).
  • An electrical cord and USB cord for computer connection.
  • 2 cutting mats (one for thick media, one for thin media).
  • 3 blade caps (you replace a cap on the blade for different cuts when it comes to the Silhouette SD rather than the blade itself, which I did like).
  • 1 installation CD (complete with 50 preloaded designs) and 1 detailed tutorial CD (Software for Windows XP/Vista/7 and Mac OS X 10.5.8 and higher).
  • A basic manual.
  • $10 download card for the Silhouette Online Store.

What else you need (or might need)

  • A computer, Mac or PC.
  • A longer USB cord. I found the cord which came with the machine too short for my particular set up, however an existing (much longer) cord from another machine I had on hand worked great.
  • Material to cut of course (paper from your stash, or anything from Silhouette’s line of other materials including heat transfers, temporary tattoo paper, vinyl, etc).
  • Basic computer skills.
  • An SD card to make the most of the Silhouette SD’s capability (it seems to me like they could have tossed one in the box, but most of us probably have one on hand).
  • Patience and time for the learning curve.

Set up

Initial set up of the Silhouette SD was quick and easy. The software installed on my Windows 7 PC in minutes (though do make sure all Windows updates have been applied to your computer first, as this did add to the total time for install on my end).

As far as physical space, the machine does not take up a lot of room. You do need space in front and behind it for the material to move while being cut. The machine cuts 8 1/2″ x 12″ size or smaller using a mat.

The technical side (software and online)

The paper manual which comes in the box is enough to get you up and cutting quickly, however the array of tools and options in the software does require you take some time to watch the tutorial CD and learn the basics. The tutorials are very well put together and easy to understand, especially if you are a visual learner like I am.


I liked the look of the software; it is slightly customizable in appearance (color and button size), and pretty easy to navigate. Here’s an image of the basic desktop you start off with for each new design.


I especially appreciated that hovering with the pointer over a particular tool brought up its name until I got the hang of what they all were. If you are familiar with photo editing or drawing programs, the software will seem very intuitive to you. If not, the tutorials (which are very specific) will give you a great handle on it quickly.

You are able to cut just about any design (pre-made, your own, or a traced scan) with the Silhouette SD. All True Type fonts installed on your computer can be cut, which opens up the flood gates for font possibilities in projects.

As mentioned above, the Silhouette SD software comes pre-loaded with 50 extremely usable designs:


Right at your finger tips is also a link to the online store with thousands of options to choose from (most are 99 cents each, though subscription programs are available which reduce the cost greatly), including designs from well-known companies like Hero Arts and Donna Downey. I quickly spent the $10 download card that comes with the machine while looking at all the great options!

Of course, possibilities are endless when you take into account designing your own images as well. Here’s a simple project made by creating my own design using standards fonts (Impact and Lucida Handwriting). The weld tool makes easy work of combining letters.

My design in the software:


And the finished project:

Performance

Though I only had opportunity to test the Silhouette SD on regular cardstock and paper for this review, it worked absolutely great. The machine is noisy when cutting, but does the job. I appreciate the 2 different cutting mats for different thicknesses of media, between which the only difference is the amount of adhesive (the lesser amount of adhesive meant for thinner materials).

As far as actual cutting, the Silhouette SD has more than just one option too. It also perforates. I love this option which makes super quick work of folded projects such as this pillow box (this template comes with the software).


Other features

The Silhouette has a Print and Cut feature which for me was the tipping point on why I’d now lean towards recommending this machine to a friend. I am a very big fan of cutting elements out of patterned paper for projects, and this option is quick, easy, and works great.

As an example, these 3D flowers were available in the online store.


First I printed them with the necessary registration marks so the Silhouette knows where to cut (this is covered in the tutorials) and then simply loaded into the machine for cutting. Here’s a peek of the Silhouette SD in action with the lid raised.


And the result:


Here’s a card using the finished flowers (which would have been about $2.99 in a pre-made pack).


The card template and sentiment also come preloaded with the software, and the dress form is from the online store.

To make the Print and Cut feature even more appealing, the software also includes a trace tool for tracing scanned images you wish to cut out. The trace tool takes a little getting used to, but once I practiced a bit I was able to make a near perfect replica of this vintage doily in a few easy steps. First I scanned the doily into Photoshop Elements and saved the image as a bitmap, then opened the bitmap image in Silhouette SD Studio and followed the steps to trace it, and finally proceeded just like I would with a print and cut image:



Finally, the Silhouette SD has portability thanks to the SD card slot located on the machine.


Designs are able to be loaded onto an SD card and then retrieved by the machine for cutting while not connected to a computer.

To sum up, let’s revisit those primary questions above when purchasing a die cutting machine.

  • Do we want excellent portability or will the machine stay in one place on our craft rooms never to move?

You don’t have to necessarily choose with the Silhouette SD. Thanks to the SD card slot, you are able to pre-load designs to be cut onto an SD card (not included), unplug the machine from your computer, and take it with you to a crop or anywhere else. You must, of course, take the time to load up the SD card with images first, however if you do so with ones you use often that can become very handy. I myself don’t crop out of the home much, but traveling from my craft area (where my husband is playing a loud video game) to the dining room table (where I don’t have to hear “watch your back!” every few minutes) is a nice option.

  • Do we want the capability to cut our own designs or are we OK with strictly pre-made ones?

Again no choice necessary here. Countless designs are available online, many great ones come with the machine preloaded in the software, and designing our own is a piece of cake once you get the hang of the software. And, no need to buy many designs we don’t care for either just to get a few that we do.

  • How computer savvy do we need to be to use the thing?

Basics are definitely needed, and knowledge of working with other drawing type programs would put you that much further ahead of the learning curve, however the tutorials are very good at explaining each and every tool. So there should not be any intimidation about the computer needs as long as you are willing to take the time to learn.

  • And of course at what point does the price (and future costs associated with) no longer equal a good investment?

There is certainly more freedom in how we can answer this question with the Silhouette SD versus other machines currently on the market. For one, designs can be purchased separately for 99 cents, however if you become good at it you can also design your own for free (or download the weekly freebies from the online store to build your collection also). If you find you are constantly wanting to use new images, you can choose one of the subscription plans available which roll over from month to month if you do not use them up. Also there is no third party software to purchase in order to increase the capability of the machine, it simply comes with the flexibility we wish they all had.

Pros:

  • The Silhouette SD can cut just about any image, increasing its value potential over other machines.
  • The software and online store are user friendly and fairly easy to navigate after a bit of learning time.
  • Many options are available from cutting style (straight line or perforated), cutting mat (thin or thicker media), to material which can be cut (Silhouette also offers vinyl, heat transfer material, flocked paper, and even temporary tattoo paper).

Cons:

  • Initial purchase price of around $200 is expensive and may not fit your budget, no matter what the possibilities for use could be.
  • The Silhouette cuts a smaller size overall than other die cutting machines (8 1/2″ x 12″ vs 12″ x 12″ or larger), and if you have large 12″ x 12″ stash you will be trimming a lot before cutting is possible.
  • Like other machines, eventually the blade and mats will need to be replaced which will be an added cost.

Good DEALS…
Our friends at Silhouette are providing our readers with some fabulous offers… from now until June 29, 2011, you can get…

1 Silhouette SD 
2 Packages Temporary Tattoo Paper 
for $199 (U.S. only) (that’s a $120 savings!)

Also, (wait for it…)

25% off all other products in the Silhouette shop (excluding gift cards and download codes). So if you already own the machine but want to get some of that cool Tattoo Paper or Heat Transfer material, now is the time.

To partake in this amazing offer, head on over to Silhouette and use Promo Code CRITIQUE. Offer ends June 29, 2011.
 
AND A GIVEAWAY!

They’ve also given us a Silhouette SD and two packages of their Tattoo Paper to give away to one of our very lucky readers. First enter by leaving a comment below answering the following question(s):

Do you own a Silhouette SD or are you considering purchasing one? What are your thoughts on how this machine can do versus other machines you know of? 

We can’t wait to hear from you on this one! This will give you one entry but wait, there’s more…

Optional Bonus Entries
Earn additional entry for each of the following:

■ Tweet about the giveaway! (example): WIN a Free Silhouette on @CraftCritique from @silhouetteam and read the Reviews. http://is.gd/QxOcYB

Like Silhouette America on Facebook and let them know you saw them on Craft Critique!

■ Link to the giveaway on Facebook!

Please enter one comment per entry. So, once you have done any of the additional entries remember to come back and comment to let us know. Contest closes at midnight. Good Luck!

Disclosure

Click on the link at the top of the page to visit Craft Critique for comments, giveaways and more!

Android Camera Apps

Reported by Jessica Ripley

I’ll admit it, I have an unnatural attachment to my phone. However, I am not an iPhone user. At the mercy of my husband who is the tech guru of the household, we became an Android family, and while I once rolled my eyes at those that had their very lives tied to their smart phones, I became a quick convert once I got my hands on my current Android Samsung Epic.

Yes it is a great phone, but like the iPhone, what makes Android so much darn fun is the Marketplace full of apps (short for Applications in case you are in the dark like I was not so very long ago). There are apps for everything, and after I’d found several games to waste time during my train commute (like tools to balance my budget, and ways to find a new restaurant), as a scrapbooker I naturally began to seek out camera apps. I had long envied those super cool shots that iPhone users were able to get right out of their phone. It was like they had a mini Photoshop (which is also an app by the way) right at their fingertips. But which apps would allow me to do this on my Android phone? I was thrilled to find several! Below are three that I would recommend. All are found in the Android Market:


FxCamera

Cost: Free

FxCamera is an app that does exactly what it says, instantly applies certain effects to your shot. There are a total of six different effects to choose from including:

ToyCam (provides a light leaky colorized effect):


Polandroid (my favorite of the options, includes a Polaroid type frame):

Fisheye (gives the effect of a fish eye lens):

SymmetriCam (creates a mirror image effect of your photos, not necessarily my favorite but could be neat).

Warhol (think Andy Warhol art from your photos):


Normal (normal yes, but also has color filters, sepia option, posterize, and more).

This is a simple to use app that has some basic functionality to give your photos that little extra something. Many of the effects also have options to configure them further, such as adding a faded or aged effect. My favorite of these options is by far the Polandroid, and I use it again and again.

Pros:

  • A very decent app for free.
  • Easy options to navigate and use.

Cons:

  • There are ads since it is a free app, but they are unobtrusive and only in the selection screen.
  • I only use one or two of the effects regularly, and they are similar to effects in another app I have and prefer (see below) so I rarely use this app anymore.

Retro Camera
Cost: Free or $2.99 for the “Plus” version.

Inspired by Lomo and Holga type photography, the Retro Camera app is very fun to use, and turns your phone into one of five vintage cameras. What I love about this app is not only the pictures it takes, but also just the look of the app itself. Each camera is artfully illustrated from the moment you navigate through to select one, to actually taking the photo itself. Choices include:

The Barbl (Creates a square, grungy bordered, low saturation shot):


Little Orange Box (Creates a very grungy shot, highly processed shot, and has a black and white option):




Xolaroid 2000 (Another “Polaroid” type, similar to the effect of that on the FxCamera app but with a black and white option also):


The Pinhole (Provides a shot with a full bleed “35 mm” effect, with low saturation):


The Fudgecan (A square shot with a “burnt” border and low saturation):


As you can see, all of the options provide the slightly faded, grungy look that we love about vintage photos. While I don’t use this one all the time, I do really love the ‘artsty’ effects it brings to photos that are very unique to the app. The only difference between the free and paid version of this app are the advertisements. As of the date of this article, both versions provide the same effects, though the developers are currently taking suggestions on their Facebook page for their next “camera” to add to the group.

Pros:

  • The free version is a bargain indeed.
  • Very fun to use and to play with. One photo could take on many, many different looks with just this one app. (Though you’d have to take the photo several times rather than just edit it, see more on that below)

Cons:

  • Ads for the free version are more “in your face” and never really go away. But, they stay at the bottom of the screen and don’t interfere with your photo fun.
  • The photos this app take may be a little too “stylized” for some.

Vignette
Cost: $4.00, but a free demo version is available.

I highly recommend this camera app for Android. If you only ever wanted to have to deal with one, even with a small cost associated, it is by far my favorite. With over 60 effects, frames, and styles, it provides countless opportunities to play with and edit your photos right from your phone. Here’s a collection of some of favorite shots with this app:


There are far too many options to list (there are eight categories such as “Vintage”, “Lens Effect”, and “Colour Highlight” that have several further sub-options to choose from). However my favorite feature is that I can take a photo using any effect, but apply a different effect (or another, or another) until I achieve the look I want, just like I would do with actions in Photoshop (a series of edits meant to achieve a specific look, but with the act of just one click rather than several adjustments). On other apps, the style you choose to shoot the photo in is the one you are stuck with.

Not only does this app have a plethora of effects from which to choose (from normal to highly stylized), it also includes support for the front facing camera (for those of us who like to take those self portraits for Facebook which again, I’ll admit to that), a self timer, and even a digital zoom. For a $4.00 app, I’ve replaced my $200 point-and-shoot. Why take photos on a regular camera which I then have to download into Photoshop and edit when I can do it in one easy step on my phone? I am also able to further customize the app by saving certain favorite features I like together, such as “Action Movie” (vivid reds against a blue-green tone) together with an “Instant Transfer” frame. Just another two of the many options.


Pros:

  • So many options to choose from, I consider the $4.00 price tag a big bargain.
  • Includes additional features such as support for the front facing camera if your phone has one, self timer, and digital zoom.

Cons:

  • It can be a little slow to load due to the number of options available, but this isn’t a huge deterrent for me to make it my go to app when taking a photo.
  • The number of options could be overwhelming, but I just find them fun!

There are of course many, many other camera app options both free and at a small cost out there to choose from. I’d love to hear if you have an Android phone and have another favorite and why, or if you use any of those above what your favorite feature is.

Click on the link at the top of the page to visit Craft Critique for comments, giveaways and more!

Craft Supply Organizers: What to Look For

Reported by Jessica Ripley

Recently, fellow reporter Taylor Usry wrote a great article on organizing your craft supplies. It is that time isn’t it? With Spring right around the corner, it’s time to declare war on any clutter in our craft areas. Both to start the Spring Cleaning off right, and of course to make way for all the new stuff we choose to get our hot little hands on.

Luckily, the craft industry isn’t a fool when it comes to knowing we not only love our supplies, but also love ways to keep them neat and tidy. There are a multitude of organization items geared specifically toward pretty much anything we as crafters own. From stamps and ink, to ribbon and beads, to paper and punches, if you own it someone will sell you something to put it in. In fact there are so many options, it can sometimes make your head spin while trying to decide just exactly what will work best for you. And then before you know it you need an organizer for all your organizers!

So what should you look for when shopping for a supply organizer? Here is a list of five things to have in mind to keep you both centered and sane while you make a creative space fit just for your needs.

1. How much space do I have to devote to storage?
Look at your crafting area (or room if you are so lucky) and decide first where organizers and storage could go.

  • Look Up: Do you have shelves already or can you install some on the wall? Are they nice and deep or narrow?
  • Look Down: Are there places you could have a free-standing unit? Like under your work table or in a closet?
  • Look Around: Do you have ample counter space? Or just a tiny work area that is often cluttered with your latest project?

I have square shelves and a large L-shaped desk. I never use the entire desk surface as I tend to keep my projects consolidated, so I knew I could utilize my desktop space for storage too. This carousel by Making Memories was then something I knew would work well for me.

Craft Critique’s review of the desktop carousel will help convince you. It does take up a lot of surface area, however it was space I could spare, and it’s been wonderful for having items right at my fingertips.

2. What one thing do I tend to own the most of?
Do you have so many flowers you could rival the royal gardens? Do you desire every bit of ribbon you see? Or do you have so many ink pads the police come calling when they run out at the station for fingerprinting? Whatever your addiction, that is what deserves its own specialized organizer or location. There’s nothing worse that digging through other items just to find your favorites.

In my case, I tend to collect pens. I have all sorts. Therefore they have their own drawer where nothing else is allowed, and where I can spread them out liberally for the picking.

3. Will I use it if I can’t see it? (or forget I have it?)
Are you more likely to use something from your stash if it’s staring you in the face? Or do you have a mental inventory of what you have on hand and know exactly which pieces you would like to work with?

I need to see as many of my supplies as possible or I’ll neglect them. I am horrible at neatly putting something away, only to find it months later, and then not be as in love with it as I was before (I admit it, I like the newness of the trends). So, I knew I needed something that would display what I had or I’d never get to it (or just keep buying new). The solution to this for me was the Clip it Up by Simply Renee.

It’s been perfect for keeping me using what I have, and fit my need for counter top items. I also have see through drawers to remind me I do not need any more beads, ink pads, etc. You can read reviews of the Clip it Up on Craft Critique here and here, and also a recent review of the upper extension piece here.

4. Is it functional for what I create with?
Meaning, is it a good fit for what I like to keep on hand? Or am I just wanting it because it makes for a pretty view?

I have been tempted by many an organizer simply because it looked pretty on the wall when filled with certain products. You’ve seen the pictures too, where a perfectly organized wall unit or shelf is filled with embellishments all in the same color and they are placed just so. That’s not a realistic and working craft room, that’s a photo shoot. If you have the room to enjoy such a thing I say have at it, but if not, remember the difference when you shop.

And finally,

5. Can I re-purpose something I already own, or purchase something less expensive?
While there are a multitude of products to choose from for craft organization, this elite description does come with a price tag. There are many times when with a little thinking outside the box, you can create or find something not specifically meant for craft supplies, but that will do just dandy. So ask yourself:

  • Have I checked the hardware of thrift store for something similar?
  • Do they have something in the office supply store that would work?
  • If I just washed out this spaghetti sauce jar and peeled off the label would anyone besides me ever know it wasn’t meant for buttons?

For example, I used a clear over the door shoe holder just like this one for many of my supplies. It was less than $10.00, and is perfect for my punches and stamps.


I’ve also found many options at thrift stores. An old paper towel holder becomes a ribbon spool, or an outdated spice rack a place for bits and baubles. There is also a bonus of getting to re-purpose thrift store items. Raise your hand if you like to alter things too!

So, whether you are reorganizing what you already have, or purchasing new, keep the above five questions in mind when you go. It will keep your organization process as it should be, simple and stress free.

You can also find lots more ideas and reviews on organizational products right here on Craft Critique. Some examples:

Organizing Done Cheaply

Librarian’s Guide to Organizing Scrapbook Paper

ACDSee for Organizing Digital Supplies

An Organization Blog Carnival (and Part 2)

ScrapOnizer Toolbox

Ribbon Ring

Photo Storage Boxes

Scrapbook Organization: A Manifesto

Ikea for Craft Storage

And more! Use the handy Google search box in the sidebar to look for whatever you might desire. And if you can’t find it here, let us know you want us to review it!

What other things might you look for when deciding on which organizational items work best for you? Any tips or tricks to share with our readers? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Click on the link at the top of the page to visit Craft Critique for comments, giveaways and more!

Photo Printing Sites: Shutterfly, Winkflash, & Snapfish

Reported by Jessica Ripley


Chances are, if you have a digital camera, you have also invested in some kind of printer to print out the photos you collect on your memory card. If you nodded your head yes to both of those scenarios, then you most likely also feel the pinch of the cost to purchase photo paper and ink for those printers. And while printing at home is convenient, it can get quite pricey if you print out those photos very often.

Personally, I only print out photos that I scrapbook (which I don’t do as often as I’d like) so the cost does not particularly add up to print at home. However there are times when I need a special print or several of one copy and just would rather have them printed professionally. Luckily, there are a multitude of online options to choose from, but which one is the best? Are they all reliable? And most importantly, are they a good value rather than printing at home? I set out to see for myself and am more than happy to share the results with you.

For this article, I did a mini-test run of 3 popular photo printing sites; Shutterfly, Winkflash, and Snapfish. I ordered the same 5×7 print from each site on the same day (within minutes of each other) and awaited the results. Was there a clear front runner in who I’ll use in the future? Pretty much yes.

The Websites:

Preferred: Shutterfly

Of all three, Shutterfly has the most to offer in my opinion, not only providing the basics of uploading and ordering, but also a community for sharing projects as well as many how to videos and articles. I like Shutterfly’s website for more than just a place where I could order prints, I could actually just spend some creative time there.

My next choice would be Snapfish, due to their editing options once you have uploaded a photo to their site. Complete with fun frame options, it’s a personalization step that has just a little more to offer than the editor at Winkflash.

Snapfish Editor:


Winkflash Editor:

Shutterfly also has similar editing options to Snapfish.

I found each of the three websites fairly easy to navigate, and actually very similar in the way they work as well. Upload your photo(s) of choice, select printing options, pay and you’re done.

Shuttefly Uploader:
Snapfish Uploader:

Winkflash Uploader:


You must create an online account first to do so which is also an easy process.

Something to note, since I created my account with each of the sites I have of course received promotional emails as well with special offers for future orders. The total to date?

Shutterfly – 4 (1 welcome, 2 order related, 1 promotional)

Winkflash – 3 (1 welcome, 2 order related)

Snapfish – 22 (let’s just say the majority are promotional)

I was sometimes receiving 2 emails from Snapfish per day! I have since opted out of their promotional offers due to the sheer volume of them, which is a shame, because they do have some good offers from time to time.

All three websites also offer a majority of products such as photobooks, holiday cards, and calendars as well. For this particular review however I was only interested in an actual photo print.

The Ordering Process:

Preferred: Any are fine. This was quick, easy, and basically the same process for all three sites.

Once photos are uploaded you are able to select the size of print, quantity, shipping options, etc. before check out. All sites also had a low quality warning for the resolution of the photo I chose to upload.

From Winkflash:

As well as resolution suggestions in order to get the best quality print. I found that a nice feature, since sometimes I forget which photos I’ve already re-sized for posting on the web.

Snapfish’s warning was a little harder to see however, if you didn’t click on it to see what that triangle was for:


Cost:

For one 5×7 print with standard shipping:

Shutterfly – $2.85

Snapfish – $1.83.

Winkflash – $1.14

Shutterfly is not necessarily more expensive when it comes to prints, but definitely the most expensive when it comes to shipping. However, they are also the fastest.

Shipping:

Shutterfly – first to arrive. In my mailbox in 3 days. That was very satisfying to receive my order so quickly!

Winkflash – second to arrive. In my mailbox in 5 days.

Snapfish – last to arrive. Not in my mailbox until 11 days after I ordered. (And lots of trees went into all the junk mail that came stuffed inside too).

I’m hoping one of our readers may be able to chime in on timing related to an order they received from Snapfish, as mine seemed to take an abnormally long time to arrive when compared to the other 2 sites. However, when I contacted their customer service about my concern that it hadn’t arrived after 8 days, they were extremely helpful, and sent out a replacement print at no cost which arrived via FedEx in 2 days.


And it certainly wasn’t like pulling teeth either. They were more than willing to believe me and send a replacement.

Quality:

Preferred: Snapfish


All three of the photos were a bit pixilated due to the print size I requested vs. the image size I sent (even with their warnings). However no two were exactly alike, and I found myself drawn to the color in the Snapfish photo over the other two photos (Snapfish uses Kodak paper, the other 2 sites use Fuji).

Overall:

After trying out all three sites and thinking over my experiences I’m a bit surprised at which one I’ll go to next time. While Shutterfly’s super fast shipping was wonderful, for the cost I could probably wait an extra day or two for my prints to arrive from Winkflash or Snapfish. And then, since I was most pleased with Snapfish’s print quality, and I now know that their customer service is ready and willing to help if needed, I would most likely go with them.

The above of course is just one crafter’s trial, of course, and you may have had different experiences. With that in mind a brief summary of each:

Shutterfly Major Pro:

  • Superfast shipping

Shutterfly Major Con:

  • Most expensive

Winkflash Major Pro:

  • Fast shipping mixed with cheapest price

Winkflash Major Con:

  • Didn’t like the website as much and photo quality not quite as good

Snapfish Major Pro:

  • Helpful customer service mixed with high quality print (and fair price)

Snapfish Major Con:

  • Why did my first print take so long to come? Not sure I’d order if I needed something immediately.

Do you order prints online often? There are so many options out there, including having them sent directly to your local drugstore for immediate pickup. We would love to hear about your experiences. Your comments are a major part of helping our readers find the best of the best out there!

Click on the link at the top of the page to visit Craft Critique for comments, giveaways and more!

Vendor Spotlight & Giveaway: Crafters Companion (2 of 4)

Reported by Jessica Ripley

I was first introduced to Crafters Companion products when a review of their Rock-A-Blocks Stamp Mounting System right here on Craft Critique intrigued me. I thought, it was an innovative idea. So it certainly didn’t surprise me at all to see their booth at CHA Summer 2010 full of exciting products that I couldn’t wait to get my hands on to try.

Something that immediately had my attention was the Stick Away and Stick and Spray duo.


As a Cricut Expression owner, the promise that together they could extend the life of my cutting mats sounded almost too good to be true. I go through so many mats, and that cost certainly adds up! Not to mention after a while, even if they still do the job of holding down the paper while cutting, they just get kind of nasty.


It may be a bit hard to see in the above photo, but fellow Cricut owners can probably attest that the adhesive on the mat gets gunked up (technical term) after so many uses. And, the little bits of paper, dust, etc that can get stuck in that gunk (and cat hair too, I’ll admit it). So, I was very anxious to try the first step of cleaning off the mat with the Stick Away spray.

The entire process is a simple three steps, unless repeating the first two is necessary to really remove all that old adhesive residue (I only had to do it once). All that is needed are the two sprays, Stick Away and Stick and Spray, as well as an old credit card or something similar to scrape away the residue.

Something to note, these instructions to renew your cutting mats aren’t actually on the products themselves. You must go to the Crafters Companion website to find them, however once you do, you will also find a wealth of other fun how-tos, videos, and project ideas that make that step worthwhile.

After spraying the mat with Stick Away, allow it to set for about 30 seconds or so to penetrate all that old adhesive. Then simply scrape away using an old card. Just look at all this stuff that comes off!

Immediately I could see how clean my mat now was. No more gunk (or… cat hair).

Next, it’s a good idea to tape the edges of the mat before applying what will make it tacky again, the Stick and Spray. This is partially to protect your work surface, but also to be sure that any part of the mat which wasn’t sticky before doesn’t have adhesive on it when going into the machine.

Again after about 30 seconds the product had done its job, and my mat felt tacky and ready to test. It was clean, and aside from the deep cut marks of a few past projects, seemed almost like new! I say “almost”, as it wasn’t quite as sticky as when I first took it out of the package, but then again, I actually think when they are brand new the mats are slightly too sticky and it is difficult to remove the first few die cuts I make with them.

This was not the case at all after I used the Stick Away and Stick and Spray. The mat worked wonderfully, and though I had to use the spatula to loosen them a bit, the die cuts came off beautifully. And the mat was tacky enough to use again.

How long will one application last? I’ve used the mat at least three more times since this original application and don’t yet feel the need to reapply. But when I do, I have the generously sized 5.9 oz. cans of Stick Away and Stick and Spray ready to use again rather than having to run to the store for another mat. Also at a cost of about $15.00 for the duo, they are much friendlier on the wallet as well when I add up how much I’ve spent on mat after mat. Have you used this combo for even longer before having to reapply? Let us know in the comments.

Both products are meant to have multiple uses as well. The Stick Away Spray is, at its base, an adhesive remover. It can be used to remove gum, tar, labels, and even residue on rubber stamps. The Stick and Spray is a repositionable adhesive which can be used to place stencils and adhere rubber stamps to acrylic blocks. You can even use it to turn any piece of paper into a “sticky-note”. It also needs to be mentioned that both products are acid-free, so there is no fear of anything the products come in contact with touching your precious photos.

The Stick and Spray as mentioned above is meant also to be used to apply unmounted rubber stamps to an acrylic block. Crafters Companion line of S.W.A.L.K Stamps are a good example of how this process would work.

All of these stamps are adorably designed, and even though as I’m sure I have mentioned in past reviews, I am not that much of a stamper, I found this one to be a very cute addition to the few that I do have.

Too large for any acrylic block I had on hand, I did need to trim the stamp down to fit. However this was easily done. The rubber was thin and flexible. After spraying just a bit of Stick and Spray on the back and adhering to an acrylic block, I created the card below:


You can see many beautifully done cards using the S.W.A.L.K collection at Crafters Companion‘s website gallery. They certainly make me consider adding one or two more to my collection.

Last but certainly not least, I had an opportunity to play with the time and mess saving product called Spray and Sparkle. This is going to be a must for all those upcoming holiday crafts, when glittering projects with abandon is deemed perfectly acceptable.

Essentially a varnish, each of the four available colors also contains a very fine glitter within that adds as little or as much sparkle to your project as you desire. From just a touch of shine, to a full on glitter covered piece, the spray is extremely easy to use. Using the gold, I covered one of the die cuts I had made above in only a few seconds:

After I let it dry for the recommended 30 minutes, I then made the easy holiday card below. I also sprayed the entire card just once with the gold glitter spray for a touch of shine:



The Spray and Sparkle is also quite easy to use when it comes to covering a variety of surfaces in glitter. It takes away the worry of coating something with too much or too little glue as it combines the adhesive and glitter into one step. I tested the Multicolor Spray and Sparkle on a glass holiday ornament, and achieved the below results:

A nice touch, it almost appears silver. The flecks of color in the Multicolor spray are subdued but there. In fact I would describe the Multicolor as more of a Silver with flecks of color, and it honestly isn’t my favorite, I prefer the gold.

Also, I have to mention the odor of the Spray and Sparkle. It is very strong (remember it is essentially a varnish). Even though it is non-toxic and also acid-free, this is not a product you should work with without an open window or even outside. It does cut down on a normal glittery mess, but is a spray, therefore just as you would with spray paint you must take steps to protect your work surface and area as appropriate. Finally, it is a little expensive at $8.95 per can, however I can see one can lasting a very long time.

In summary, do I think these products are a good addition to my crafty stash? Yes, definitely. For all their other uses the Stick Away and Stick and Spray will become a huge asset when it comes to both saving time and money from cutting down on the need for buying brand new cutting mats. And the Spray and Sparkle will be one of those products that I’m sure I’ll find myself reaching for again and again, just to add that special touch.

Pros:

  • The combination of Stick Away and Stick and Spray can extend the life of cutting mats exponentially and will be both a money and a time saver.
  • Both products have other uses as well, such as adhering rubber stamps to acrylic blocks, or even many household uses, increasing their value.
  • Spray and Sparkle cuts down on mess and time, and is just plain fun to use on projects.

Cons:

  • The magic combination of Stick Away and Stick and Spray won’t be as handy if you don’t own a die cut machine with a mat.
  • Odor for all products is strong, and though the Stick Away has a perfumed scent, working near an open window is a must.
  • Sprays are a little messy even if easy to use, protect your work area well.

Giveaway! 
The kind folks at Crafter’s Companion have provided us with a set of Stick Away and Stick and Spray
for one of our lucky readers. Just leave a comment on either of today’s articles, and answer this question:

What stuff you need to stick, or unstick, around your house?

Disclosure

Click on the link at the top of the page to visit Craft Critique for comments, giveaways and more!

Fiskars Squeeze Punches

Reported by Jessica Ripley


Good old reliable paper punches. If you are a scrapbooker I’m absolutely certain you have at least 2 or 3 in your crafty arsenal (but if you are a scrapbooker like me, most probably more like 9 or 10). Before there was a die cutting machine for every taste and budget, we collected punches in every shape that appealed to us, from stars to lizards, and every size imaginable, from the tiny to the huge. Unfortunately for most though, we also suffered for our craft… those punches are hard on the hands! There is one brand out there however that in this crafter’s opinion rises far above the rest when it comes to just sheer comfort of use, and that is the Squeeze Punch from Fiskars.

The only paper punch to be awarded the Arthritis Foundation Ease Of Use Commendation, Fiskars Squeeze Punches come in over 50 designs. Besides being very easy on the hands due to the ergonomically designed handles that are easy to operate, another plus is that the punch is meant to be used face up so you can see exactly what you are punching out.


It’s nice to eliminate the guess work that some punches require when you have to place them on a table to punch out your shape (and then push with all your might with both hands, jump up and down, and grunt).

As mentioned above the punches come in many shapes. If I’m going to purchase a separate punch for my stash it has to be a shape that I can use again and again, and Fiskars understands the importance of that. Their designs for the Squeeze Punches include standards like circles, squares, flowers, and even corner rounders. They do also include a few holiday themed punches for Christmas and are currently featuring a special Fall edition. My absolute favorite design is their Seal of Approval scalloped edged circle used to make the tree leaves in the layout below:


Most shapes are also offered in different sizes, from small to extra large. The card below uses the Round and Round design in these two different sizes for example:


There are a few drawbacks of course, size for one. Because of that wonderful design that makes these punches so easy to use, they take up quite a bit more space than a smaller punch would in your drawers. A lot more in fact.


At an average MSRP of $14.00 (going up or down depending on the size), they are also about twice as expensive as their counterparts, and I rarely ever buy them unless they are on sale or I have a coupon.

As far as materials which can be punched, Fiskars recommends that the punches are used only with 65lb card stock or lower. This is definitely not a rule to test, as I have actually damaged one of my squeeze punches so that it no longer lines up properly to punch after trying it on thin chipboard. However, this isn’t something I hold against them at all, considering most other punches can’t handle thicker materials either.

Out of curiosity, I also tried out the Seal of Approval punch on a transparency, but it definitely won’t work. It barely cut out just a portion of the design:

Stick with paper for these punches as you would with most others, and save the thicker materials for your die cutting machine.

With that in mind, if you have a die cutting machine why even bother with paper punches? Honestly even though I do own one, I find myself constantly still reaching for a paper punch just to add a quick element or two to a project, to carry with me if I’m crafting away from home, or if I want to just cut out several of one shape super quickly. And while I may not be collecting as many punches as I would have before die cutting machines, when I do pick one up in the store, it will always be a Fiskars Squeeze Punch. The ease of use and the visibility in punching far outweighs any draw back on size or price for me.

In summary:

Pros:

  • Extremely easy on the hands when using, no grunting and jumping up and down when trying to punch!
  • Open faced design lets you see exactly what you are punching out. Great for when punching out certain details of patterned paper.
  • Comes in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, especially shapes which can be used again and again (like circles, squares, and corner rounders).

Cons:

  • More expensive that many other punches in stores.
  • Harder to store due to the large size, the handles take up a lot of room.
  • Punching through material which is too thick can damage the punch, stick to the 65lb or lower paper recommendation.

What’s your current paper punch collection like? Do you own any squeeze punches? We would love to hear what you love or dislike about them in the comments.

Disclosure

Click on the link at the top of the page to visit Craft Critique for comments, giveaways and more!

Studio by Sculpey 5-in-1 Clay Tool

Reported by Jessica Ripley


Being new to working with clay (beyond rolling three balls and calling it a snowman that is), when I first got the urge to peruse the clay tools in my local craft store I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for. It was during this browsing that the 5-in-1 Clay Tool from Sculpey caught my eye. While there were several separate tools available, the 5-in-1 version just seemed like it included a lot more bang for the buck. At a retail price of around $15.00, with other tools costing close to $7.00 or $8.00 each, it was the clear winner for my first foray into clay arts.

Sold as part of Sculpey’s Studio Line of products, the tool comes with five interchangeable heads that attach to a handle with a long metal post that links to a magnet inside the handle itself.


They include:

  • A cutting blade (and plastic safety cover)
  • Metal ball shaped head
  • Needle tool (and plastic safety cover)
  • Flexible chisel shaped tool
  • Flexible cone shaped tool

Sculpey has also included a storage case for all 5 heads to keep them from rolling around on your work surface, and to keep them together. I definitely appreciated this, but would love it even more if that storage base also had a place for the handle. Also the interchangeable heads don’t fit especially snugly in the storage base and fall out easily if it is tipped.It does have a sturdy bottom, so this will only happen if you accidentally knock it over (like me, who is not the most graceful person in the world).

However, even though they don’t fit into the storage base snugly, the interchangeable heads fit into and then stayed in the handle just fine. Held in place by a strong magnet, I never felt any of the heads were very loose as I worked with them. As this was my biggest worry about the tool when I purchased it, I was really pleased with the performance.

The handle itself is ergonomically shaped. It’s thicker in the middle, and the way it rests in your palm gives you a little more control. The material it’s made out of is a little soft and comfortable as well.

Below are brief experiments with each of the interchangeable heads:

Cutting Blade:
The cutting blade was sharp and worked well for its purpose. The grip to the handle is strong enough that the blade didn’t turn in the handle and allowed for even cuts.


Caution needs to be used when removing the blade though, as that magnetized grip is indeed strong, and you have to actually grab the blade to remove it. It would be nice if the plastic safety cover could somehow be used for that purpose.


Metal Ball Shaped Head:
The ball portion of the tool is a good size and is great for making round indentation or wavy edges.


It also has a very sturdy feel to it. I had a little trouble rolling it around in my palm, as it did turn a bit inside the handle.

Needle Tool:
This is actually the tool I think I will find myself reaching for the most. It has a nice length to it so will be wonderful for drilling holes in clay beads, and also has a sharp tip that will be good for adding details to any project.



Again, it is sharp, so a little caution is necessary when installing and removing it, but it also comes with a protective cover to be used while it is in the storage base.

Flexible Tools, chisel shaped and round cone shaped:
These both worked very well for smoothing out areas, such as seams.



The material they are made of is a hard rubber, and so the chisel shape is more flexible than the cone (at its thinner edge). Both came in handy and worked great for getting rid of finger prints from handling the clay too.

Finally, I wanted to try a project using a varying combination of the different heads. For this little Batman figure I used the blade to trim his mask, the flexible chisel shape to add some detail to his cape, the needle tool to add detail to the belt, and flexible cone shape and metal ball to smooth out some fingerprints.


Okay, still very snowman-like, but somehow much cooler.

After playing a bit with all of the interchangeable heads I was convinced I had made the right choice when I placed the 5-in-1 tool in my basket. Not only did it have those 5 tools, the actual uses for those tools were at least twice that. Though there are just a couple of things mentioned above that could possibly be improved on, I was completely happy with the purchase.

To sum up:

Pros:

  • Comes with 5 interchangeable heads that have at least 10 + uses, which is a great bargain for the buck.
  • Heads all stay in place well when connected to the handle; the magnet is very strong.
  • Everything seems to be sturdy and well made, I have no fear of anything wearing out any time soon.

Cons:

  • The storage base that is included for the 5 heads is handy, but I wish there was a place on it to store the handle so it could all be kept together.
  • Taking out the blade might be dangerous if you aren’t very careful, as you have to grab the blade to do so (I wish the safety cap could be put back on first).
  • If you already own similar tools, the 5-in-1 may not be as convenient an item to have in your stash.

Do you work with clay and own this tool or any others that you enjoy? Any other good ideas for using any of the 5 interchangeable heads? I’d love to learn from you!

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